Critics say there's a secret password that allows immigrants access into the U.S., and one that can be uttered in a short phone interview in a process they say exposes border security to widespread fraud.
The word: Asylum.
“Almost anyone at all can call themselves an asylum seeker and get in. It’s a global joke," said Kenneth Palinkas, president of the National Citizenship and Immigration Services Council. “It’s not border security if anyone can recite the magic words and get waved right on in.”
“Asylum is the trump card of immigration.”
- Jan Ting, Temple University law professor
Under current policy, aliens caught crossing the border illegally can claim asylum, and with it receive authorization to work in the United States. Once a work permit is conferred , then comes a social security card and a variety of taxpayer funded benefits such as are Supplemental Security Income, SNAP/Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Medicaid. Some of which even legal, permanent residents do not receive.
It’s a tactic most often used by 19 to 21 year-olds, according to a recent Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) report to Congress.Examples of terrorists who applied for asylum include Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind sheik behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Ramzi Yousef, another of the '93 plotters and the nephew of Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
The House Judiciary Committee last year uncovered an internal Department of Homeland Security report demonstrating at least 70 percent of asylum cases contained proven or possible fraud. Despite this, more than 90 percent of cases in which applicants claimed a "credible fear" in their nation of origin were approved. And yet, even when the asylum officer denies the case, the alien may still be awarded benefits by appealing to a judge using a “credible fear” defense and in the meantime roam freely across the country.
“Unfortunately our generous asylum polices have become subject to ever increasing levels of abuse largely due to the Obama Administration’s pattern of rubber stamping “credible fear” claims and asylum cases,” said Bob Goodlatte, R.-Va., chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary. “Instead of detaining asylum seekers while the government determines whether their cases are legitimate, the Obama administration simply releases them into the United States.”
According to the Committee, credible fear claims have increased 586 percent -- an unprecedented surge.
“It’s the second bite out of the apple,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. "You just have to be on the docket to derive the benefits. But before 2009, there wasn’t an incentive. People don’t come here to sit in detention, they come here for the work permits.”
The Center for Immigration Studies found that the number of work permits given to asylum seekers has tripled since 2008.Vaughan points to the December 2009 policy directive issued by former ICE Director John Morton, which provided that any arriving alien found to have a credible fear who could establish identity, not be a flight risk or a danger to the community should be released, as the driving force.She said the law requires all aliens seeking asylum to remain detained while their case is pending.
“Once they’re here, it’s not a priority for immigration. They’re in the wind,” said Vaughan.
Immigration dockets remain hefty. According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, as of Dec. 31, 2014, there were 415,060 non-detained cases before the court with hearing dates stretching out into 2017.
The House Judiciary Committee recently released a bill addressing some of the issues regarding asylum and while that legislation beefs up the standard for credible fear, Vaughn said it was a “missed opportunity” and does not go after the incentives. The bill does, however, attempt to forestall the administration’s plans to use $50 million in taxpayer dollars for lawyers for unaccompanied alien minors in removal proceedings, a practice already prohibited by law.
The misapplication of “credible fear” and lack of detention are not only breaches of law according to Jan Ting, a law professor at Temple University. Ting said the expanding definition of “who is legal” puts the entire system in jeopardy.
“Asylum is the trump card of immigration,” said Ting. “Credible fear was an informal procedure intended to keep people out, what’s its doing now is letting people in. People have learned the right words and phrases whether true or not.”
According to Ting, poverty and violence are not grounds for asylum and officials are watering down and misapplying the basic threshold.
“A natural disaster or flood of bullets flying around your neighborhood doesn’t meet the standard,” said Ting. “If the government wanted to deter illegal immigration, they would alter the cost-benefit analysis. Instead, they are looking for ways to help them stay.”
Ting said the situation is a legal and economic “formula for permanent dysfunction” and a core reason for the lack of jobs for Americans and stagnates wages.
“It isn’t border security if all you need is a story,” said Ting.